Leading experts from Arab states stress the relevance of Internet Universality Indicators

Thirty Internet leading experts from Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates gathered at the invitation of UNESCO to assess the draft Internet Universality Indicators during a national and a regional debate conducted on 12 and 13 March 2018 in Tunis (Tunisia). Participants highlighted the “relevance of the project to assess Internet policies and foster Internet freedom in the Arab states” and offered suggestions to improve the indicators.

As part of the second phase of its project to Define Internet Universality Indicators, UNESCO held a Tunisian as well as a regional consultation forum with prominent Internet experts and researchers from governments, intergovernmental organizations, academia, civil society, and NGOs. The consultations aimed to gather their inputs on the project and help UNESCO improve the draft indicators.

The debates were divided into six slots dealing with more than 200 options for indicators developed under six categories and covering Human Rights, Openness, Accessibility, Multi-Stakeholder participation (abbreviated as the R-O-A-M principles), as well as cross-cutting issues (X) and Contextual Indicators. During the session moderated by Sylvie Coudray, Xianhong Hu and Najib Mokni (UNESCO), participants stressed the value of the indicators to assess Internet policies and “stimulate positive change in the region”. They advised to define more substantively some of the concepts used in the framework, to add an index with all the indicators in order to avoid redundancy, and to harmonize the translated versions of the report.

Najib Mokni, Sylvie Coudray and Xianhong Hu (UNESCO) moderating the debates. © UNESCO

Debating about Contextual Indicators, one participant mentioned the need to “standardize the criterion as well as all the definitions and acceptable data sources that will be used”. Under the Rights Indicators (R), experts recommended to consult the law community to rephrase some of the indicators. A participant suggested adding an indicator on “the necessity for Internet Service Providers to protect personal privacy”. On the Openness Indicators (I), it was proposed to develop an indicator on the independence of the regulators. On Accessibility Indicators (A), participants suggested taking a holistic approach to define ‘competencies’ in the digital age and suggested adding an indicator on the accessibility of public services online. Regarding Multi-stakeholder Indicators (M), a participant pointed “the lack of representation of the different stakeholders taking part in Internet governance”. On crosscutting Indicators (X), participants talked about issues related to gender equality, the youth and security as well as the importance to contextualize these issues in each national and legal environment.

Sylvie Coudray, UNESCO Chief of Section for Freedom of Expression in the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, concluded the consultations by stressing the quality of the debates as well as “the necessity to consult with various regional and national stakeholders since they will be the ones using the Internet indicators on the ground”.

The national and regional consultations held in Tunis closed the second phase of a series of consultations on the Internet Universality Indicators. The final phase of preparing the report will include the validation of the proposed indicators, including an assessment of the viability of collecting and analyzing data and evidence in diverse national contexts. Towards the end of 2018, UNESCO will improve and finalize the Internet Universality indicators. The indicators will then be pre-tested, and pilots will be done in different countries. Subsequently, they will be submitted to the International Program for the Development of Communication (IPDC) Council Meeting for validation in November 2018.

This project is sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and the Internet Society (ISOC). It is implemented under the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and UNESCO has contracted a Consortium led by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) to help develop the indicators.